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Classic Games (Games) Hardware Hacking It's funny.  Laugh. Security Idle Build Games

Researchers Reprogram Voting Machine To Run Pac-man 132

Posted by samzenpus
from the vote-cherry-this-year dept.
Philom writes "Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that electronic voting machines can be reprogrammed to steal votes, so when researchers Alex Halderman and Ari Feldman got their hands on a machine called the Sequoia AVC Edge, they decided to do something different: they reprogrammed it to run Pac-Man. As states move away from insecure electronic voting, there's a risk that discarded machines will clog our landfills. Fortunately, these results show that voting machines can be recycled to provide countless hours of entertainment."

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Researchers Reprogram Voting Machine To Run Pac-man

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  • Game over, man (Score:3, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday August 19, 2010 @09:40AM (#33300642)
    And I, for one, welcome our new l33t haXor Congressmen and Presidents.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by MRe_nl (306212)

      http://www.google.com/pacman/ [google.com]

      Let the games (re)commence*.

      *This post is in no way responsible for any and all loss of productivity caused by it's contents.

    • The Republicans or Democrats for the stupidity of rushing head-long into computerized voting? I knew it was a bad idea right from the start.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)
      President Pac-Man has assured the nation that he is clamping down on voting machine fraud.
  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @09:40AM (#33300652)
    Doesn't that mean we'll need an audit trail to verify a player's score?
  • Someone had to say it first....

  • by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday August 19, 2010 @09:45AM (#33300770) Homepage Journal
    From the article:

    This project is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with Namco (the developer of Pac-Man) or Midway (the U.S. distributor).

    Expect a cease and desist like this one [slashdot.org] in 3, 2, 1...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Cease and desist what exactly? They aren't distributing anything other than a video. As a news item about re-purposing voting machines, fair use seems to be on their side concerning Pac-Man imagery appearing in the video.

      • by MBGMorden (803437) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @10:06AM (#33301052)

        If Namco doesn't like it they'll send the letter anyways. If if you're legally ok, is it worth hiring a lawyer to go to court and fight it? Namco (like most large companies) keeps one on staff, so sending him to court is just them using a paid for asset.

        The sad truth is that in today's society, if a corporation says to stop doing something, it's usually smart to stop it. You can't afford to prove your innocence.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tepples (727027)
        Cease and desist copying the Pac-Man program into RAM to run it on the emulator. That's what the retained lawyers that MBGMorden mentioned might say.
        • Section 117 of US copyright law allows for this.

          http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/117.html [cornell.edu]

          Unfortunately, I have to agree with a sibling post. It's too expensive to defend oneself against unjustified lawsuits.

          • Section 117 of US copyright law allows for this.

            http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/117.html [cornell.edu]

            Which a judge isn't likely to apply in your favor if you are working from a ROM that you downloaded from the Internet. As I understand 117, in order for a MAME ROM to be considered lawfully made, you have to desolder the ROM ICs from the authentic PCB and then dump each of them with an EPROM programmer. It's easier for Sega Genesis and Super NES software, for which a cartridge dumper [retrode.org] exists.

            • On a Pac-Man PCB the ROMs are socketed so getting dumps is not at all difficult, especially for people capable of performing this hack. Since there is no evidence that the ROMs were downloaded and the burden of proof rests with Namco, I don't see a judge even allowing the case to proceed.

              • A civil case is decided on a preponderance of evidence, not proof beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, the burden of proof is split between the two parties. Once Namco can trivially prove that the game was copied and that infringing copies are widespread, it is up to the hackers to prove that this particular copy does not infringe by claiming affirmative defenses such as section 117.
                • It's not that cut and dry and you contradict yourself when you say the hackers have to prove anything. I think that was just a slip of the keyboard. Even in civil cases, the burden of persuasion usually rests with the plaintiff. However, "fair use" is an affirmative defense so the burden could shift to the defendant. If it did, the hackers have the original ROMs, are not redistributing copies of them, are not making "archival" copies (hardware ROMs are specifically not covered by section 117.a.2), and are p

                  • by tepples (727027)

                    Even in civil cases, the burden of persuasion usually rests with the plaintiff.

                    Assume the plaintiff has persuaded the judge that the audiovisual work embodied in the game was reproduced, that it was performed publicly, and that the reproduction and performance were not authorized by the plaintiff. As I understand it, it becomes the defendant's turn to persuade the judge that the reproduction and performance are permissible despite not having been authorized by the plaintiff. In this case, Halderman and Feldman admit that the work was performed publicly at the USENIX Security conferenc

                    • The case you cite bares little resemblance to what we a talking about, and the rest is spurious at best. You say public performance, I say reasonable expectation of educational fair use exemption at a private conference. I also really doubt filing for dilution of trademark will get them anywhere. The hackers can easily show non-commercial, non-competing, non-confusing, nominative fair use.

                    • by tepples (727027)

                      The hackers can easily show non-commercial, non-competing, non-confusing, nominative fair use.

                      You've made what appears to be a good case for the defense. But how would they come up with the money to pay a lawyer to make such a case before a judge?

                    • At the risk of going in circles, see GGGGGGGP post. Else, hope for a pro bono EFF lawyer to take pity.

          • by Rogerborg (306625)

            It's too expensive to defend oneself against unjustified lawsuits.

            Then don't. The only winning move is not to play. Honestly, we get so riled up around here about fighting nuisance lawsuits that we forget that the best strategy is to just ignore them, let the other side get a hojillion dollar default judgement, wait for them to pass it on to a debt collection agency, then tell them that the "debt" is under dispute with the creditor. That's the last you'll ever hear about it.

            Ultimately, it's cheaper to c

    • just make a clone and call it vote eater!

      • just make a clone

        Namco owns a copyright on the physical appearance of the character Pac-Man. Namco and its then U.S. console partner Atari successfully sued a cloner in 1982 for copyright infringement ( Atari v. Philips [wikipedia.org]). So if the player character of Vote Eater looks too much like a sphere with a lune [wikipedia.org] for a mouth, and if the chasing characters look too much like Bloo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends without a valid parodic reason [deviantart.com], Namco would still have enough of a case to make the author of Vote Eater spend beauc

        • by enjerth (892959)

          Should have made it the head of Al Gore, eating chads, being chased by lawyers draped in bedsheets. Pac-Chad.

  • wrong title (Score:5, Funny)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Thursday August 19, 2010 @09:48AM (#33300810) Homepage Journal

    "Corporate Dollars Reprogram Voters To Elect PACmen"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_action_committee [wikipedia.org]

  • by TheHawke (237817) <rchapin@p e l i cancoast.net> on Thursday August 19, 2010 @09:50AM (#33300824)

    Reprogram them so they can go to work in schools as touchscreen systems for pre-k to 6th graders. They were built to take a beating so a bunch of kids could not put much of a hurt on them, right?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 19, 2010 @09:54AM (#33300868)

    We don't need people in government going around chasing ghosts.

    We need to do something about the threat from space invaders.

  • I, for one, welcome our new pill eating ghost avoiding presidential candidate overlord!

  • Does this pacman eat dangling chad?
  • ... got their hands on a machine called the Sequoia AVC Edge ... they reprogrammed it to run Pac-Man

    April First is a long way off...

  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @10:01AM (#33300972)
    At some point you can't get away with calling yourself researchers. What next "Researchers strap fireworks to cat"
  • I always wondered if they'd find a use for those voting machines. Perhaps it's a plan to get more people out to vote, gotta use your own quarter though.
  • by acid06 (917409) on Thursday August 19, 2010 @10:34AM (#33301520)

    This is terribly biased.

    Brazil has been using electronic voting country-wide for more than a decade and no party complains about its security - everyone considers them much more secure than the old and easy-to-tamper-with paper ballots.

    I honestly don't understand why there is such bias against electronic voting on Slashdot since, in theory, it's a "nerd community".

    Yes, e-voting, after a lot of effort can be compromised. Regular paper-ballot voting can be compromised by anyone, skilled or not, with not a lot of effort at all. Any voting system can be compromised. I don't honestly understand why the Slashdot community dislike e-voting that much.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by tolgyesi (1240062)
      As far as I understand the problem with the typical US voting machine is that the vendors keep the actual algorithm secret and they do not produce paper trails. These machines were designed specifically for election fraud.

      This is more obvious to the "nerd community" than to ordinary people.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by echnaton192 (1118591)

      The problem is, that you can't proof the result is correct.

      They tried to use election machines in Germany for their cost-effectedness and in order to get the results faster.

      The experts of the CCC (www.ccc.org) could show how easy it is to tamper with it.

      The High Court used their expertise to state that while electronic voting machines are not per se forbidden, the only way they would be allowed is by making them as easy to proof as an old fashioned ballot box.

      E.g. providing a print out so the voter could pr

      • www.ccc.de
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_Computer_Club [wikipedia.org]

        Not ccc.org

      • by acid06 (917409)

        I'm not sure how it works everywhere else, but in Brazil voting is anonymous.

        This means that on each paper-ballot there wasn't any sort of identifiable information associating the vote with the voter. So, a recount is moot, as you could just replace the original paper-ballots with whatever votes you want. The paper-ballot method is much more vulnerable to this kind of voting fraud, which used to happen in Brazil.

        Now, what we have here is that each one of the voting machines produces a paper-trail at the end

        • by joebeone (620917)
          I don't think it's wise to assess the security of a system by asking the interested parties whether or not they think it's secure. As we've done in a number of studies here in the U.S., the Brazilian voting systems should be subject to an independent security evaluation that results in a public report. If you click around Halderman's page, you'll see that he's got a paper demonstrating a number of serious attacks on the Indian EVMs which are much simpler that the machines used in most of the U.S.
    • by LeepII (946831)
      Well considering a computer programmer already testified before congress that he was asked to write a program that would steal votes from a Republican party member, and when he said he wouldn't the party member said "we will just find someone else", yes there is plenty of reason to be scared. Voter fraud isn't a "possibility" it is ongoing. The GSA already said it could not certify the 2000 election results because of abnormalities with the electronic voting machines.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Halo1 (136547)

      Yes, e-voting, after a lot of effort can be compromised. Regular paper-ballot voting can be compromised by anyone, skilled or not, with not a lot of effort at all. Any voting system can be compromised. I don't honestly understand why the Slashdot community dislike e-voting that much.

      Paper-ballot voting can also be verified by anyone, skilled or not. That is one of the most important parts of an election: that virtually anyone can check on the process.

      There are also no chances of accidental errors with paper-ballot voting, while bugs in electronic voting machines [blackboxvoting.org] are known to have caused votes to be lost in the past.

      Furthermore, you're talking as if paper ballot voting is without any protection at all. At least in Belgium,

      • all political parties have the right to send a single witness to
      • Thank you.

        I honestly don't understand why there is such bias against electronic voting on Slashdot since, in theory, it's a "nerd community".

        We are biased because we are painfully aware how easy it is to manipulate digital electronic information systems. There is no "record of electrons" - it is always possible to alter information without a trace.

      • by acid06 (917409)

        These methods you mention surely work for Belgium. When you've got a small country, with a relatively small population size, where vote coercion probably is a very minor issue (if a problem at all), it's much easier. The overhead of e-voting is probably not worth it.

        However, consider a different situation, in which you have voting locations in extreme places such as the middle of the Amazon rainforest (and dropping the containers in the river is a real possibility), in a country of 5500+ cities spread throu

        • by Halo1 (136547)

          These methods you mention surely work for Belgium. When you've got a small country, with a relatively small population size, where vote coercion probably is a very minor issue (if a problem at all), it's much easier. The overhead of e-voting is probably not worth it.

          Actually, about half of Belgium has voted electronically during the past elections. The process I described was for the part that still votes on paper, but there are plans to switch everyone to electronic voting.

          However, consider a different situation, in which you have voting locations in extreme places such as the middle of the Amazon rainforest (and dropping the containers in the river is a real possibility), in a country of 5500+ cities spread throughout a hufe territory and in a lot of those cities some local authorities are more powerful than the police itself.

          Suddenly, all these methods don't work. In the developed areas and large cities, these methods you described would work. In the most remote areas, however, e-voting was able to stop a lot of the election fraud which was going on.

          According to the related Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] page it indeed seems to have helped in Brazil, and I indeed assumed a properly working system of checks by society during the election process.

          Anyway, I was just explaining why "there is such bias against electronic voting on Slashdot since, in theory, it's a "nerd

          • by acid06 (917409)

            Actually, they're even considering eliminating or restricting access to the end-of-day paper trail here for the sake of anonimity. Each voter here goes to a predetermined voting location (so you can't go to any voting location as you please).

            In city elections in small towns, some minor roles will require maybe a couple hundred votes to be elected. Let's say a politician has "bought" the votes of 50 people from one given voting location but he only gets 10 votes in that location. Or worse, let's say it's a s

      • by Dhalka226 (559740)

        There are also no chances of accidental errors with paper-ballot voting

        Excuse me sir, I have the 2000 Florida Presidential Election holding for you on line two.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      It takes one or two programmers to corrupt in order to steal a nationwide election. Paper voting can be tampered but at a greater cost and a smaller effect.

      With electronic voting you have to trust a black box. Would you accept to vote with paper ballots in a box that is opaque, that is not shown to be empty beforehand and that destroys its ballot after counting ? No ? Then you don't trust electronic voting.
    • "I don't honestly understand why the Slashdot community dislike e-voting that much."

      Because we can't mod candidates we like and hate as Insightful or Flamebait. There's only this silly little "Yes" or "No" option.

    • The issue is poor security in electronic voting machines produced by the major US manufacturers. I don't think many Slashdotters are inherently opposed to voting machines. The problem is many of the voting machines used in US elections are poorly designed and don't take even basic security precautions.

      Let's take Diebold for example. They ended up having to rename their voting machine subsidiary to Premier Election Solutions because it was tarnishing the name of their company and was making their ATM bu

    • Personally I don't mind it in principle, I just mind that in America we outsource everything to the lowest bidder (or biggest briber), and that it invariably produces broken results. Our current ballot system is broken, but it's at least likely that attempts to stuff the box can be found and traced. There's very little way to trace a paperless machine. Personally, I'd just prefer something akin to a scantron test. It's easy for both humans and machines to read (fill in a bubble, if you can't figure it out,
    • by swillden (191260)

      Yes, e-voting, after a lot of effort can be compromised. Regular paper-ballot voting can be compromised by anyone, skilled or not, with not a lot of effort at all.

      You've got that backwards.

      Tampering with paper ballot voting on a small scale is easy, but tampering on a small scale won't generally change election results. Tampering with paper ballots on a sufficiently large scale to control the outcome of an election -- and not getting caught! -- is much, much harder. Doing it on a large scale basically requires involving lots of people and the more people who know a secret the harder it is to keep.

      Tampering with electronic voting is harder to do at all, but once

      • by acid06 (917409)

        Large scale manipulation will be clearly detected in any sort of remotely democratic society - even in the US, you still have two parties (and several parties in the case of Brazil). If all parties agree that e-voting is a secure alternative, it's very likely it is indeed secure (they may hold stupid views and opinions but they're usually well-versed in political trickery).

        Also, the biggest problem really is the small scale tampering and election fraud. In small cities, with maybe as few as a thousand voter

        • by swillden (191260)

          Large scale manipulation will be clearly detected in any sort of remotely democratic society

          What does it mean if you can detect it but not prove it? There have been several examples of electronically-counted US elections over the last decade whose results differed so greatly from pre-election polls and even election-day exit polls that it's almost certain that the vote was manipulated. But there is no way to prove it.

          So what does the losing party do? Nothing. Complaining in the press would just make them look like whiners and wouldn't change a thing.

    • My district (in the United States) has been using partially electronic voting machines for a long time. The ballot is a big sheet of somewhat stiff paper. You vote by marking it (with simple lines) using a black felt tip pen. When you're done, you feed the ballot into a machine that scans it. If it finds any errors, then it beeps and pushes the ballot back out. At that point, you have the option of reviewing your ballot and correcting it, getting a new ballot, or pushing an override button to accept the bal

    • by [Zappo] (68222)

      I honestly don't understand why there is such bias against electronic voting on Slashdot since, in theory, it's a "nerd community".

      Yes, e-voting, after a lot of effort can be compromised. Regular paper-ballot voting can be compromised by anyone, skilled or not, with not a lot of effort at all. Any voting system can be compromised. I don't honestly understand why the Slashdot community dislike e-voting that much.

      Relatively speaking: It's easy to keep an eye on physical pieces of paper. It's tough to keep an eye on bits.

  • Vote for Blinky!
  • Although I'm not sure about his party affiliation ... libertarian?
  • So, how would one obtain a voting machine that's en route to the landfill?

    Anyone with any experience know what sorts of departments to contact?

    I would love a huge legal-sized touchscreen to play with.

  • My person research has discovered that if you open a ballot box, it's entirely possible to bleach or otherwise erase votes and put in your own vote!

    I trust all the major tech news sites will be carrying this shocking information that threatens the very foundations of democracy!

    No? Oh wait, that's because you put tamper proof seals on ballot boxes just like you should put tamper proof seals on the cases for voting machines. Physical access to the voting computer innards/IO is basically the same as phys
  • All voting machines should be reprogrammed like this!

    Can they program it to play Tetris too? at least then I wouldn’t have to pick the lesser of two evils when I go to the polling places.

  • It has a cut down 486 as the cpu?

  • If all it has to do is something barely more complicated than a light switch, why is it running on a full computer? Why not have electronic switches that result on a vote being registered on paper or in a database or however they prefer but have the terminal not have any processing abilities at all. Just make it purely mechanical! I mean, if they could make a mechanical slot machine 50 years ago, I think they can make a mechanical machine to record votes.
  • I'm impressed that they've come up with such a great way to improve voter turn-out. This will certainly get the baby-boomers voting again, and if they can figure out how to get Halo or WoW on there, think of all the 18-25 year old men who will show up. How cool would it be if you could vote by blowing the head off of the NPC that looks like Sarah Palin?
  • Re-programming voting machines ? Call me back when they have worked out how to re-program the politicians :-)

  • I'd like to be able to verify my vote after the fact in either paper or electronic systems.
    You give me my ballot and it has a unique number on it. I can use that number later to verify that the vote linked to it is what I voted.
    Obviously there are issues with that, such as a man-in-the-middle exploit feeding me bogus results, or your anonymity being put at risk when you attempt to verify your vote. But I'd still like to have the option.
    As far as anonymity goes, I have no issue with people knowing how I woul

  • It's a computer. If you have access to the system, of course you can make it do something else. Now show me you can make it run pacman within the time and means you have when in a voting booth.
  • Interesting (Score:3, Informative)

    by sjames (1099) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @07:26PM (#33328418) Homepage

    It was just a quick comment in TFA, but they were able to do this WITHOUT damaging the seals on the device.

    With any luck, this and similar efforts will give the things enough resale value that only 95% of the taxpayer's money will end up flushed down the toilet.

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